It’s unfair for me to say Phil Jackson is the best of all time, as I have not seen many of the great coaches, including Red Auerbach, in their prime. But I will say Jackson is the best in recent memory.
Jackson has been fortunate enough to coach arguably the best shooting guards ever to play the game in Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, but it is Jackson’s ability to coach a team that makes him great.
It would be foolish to diminish Jordan and Bryant’s credibility, talent, skills, or work ethic. But, Jackson needed to develop their skills and use them in a way that would produce wins.
History has shown us that talent alone does not win championships. We can count many great players who have not won championships, like LeBron James, Chris Paul, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Mark Jackson, Patrick Ewing, and the list can go on and on.
The great thing about Phil Jackson is that he coaches teams, not superstars. In fact, he lost with a Hall of Fame roster in 2004 when he had Kobe, Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton, and Karl Malone.
The one thing that Jackson does better than everyone else is making all the players on the floor a threat. Adding on to the team concept, Jackson’s famous triangle offense allows players to get to their “automatic” shot with an open look at the basket.
I know that players like Jordan and Kobe love to take their defender one-on-one from the wing spot, but certain plays are designed to put them in that position. However, Kobe and Jordan are smart enough to know when another teammate will be open to hit their shot.
Examples of this second option include feeding Shaq in the post, Pau Gasol driving the lane, and Steve Kerr or Lamar Odom at the three-point line at the top of the key. Through Jackson’s offense, all players now become an integral part of the team’s offensive success.
Jackson’s ability to make the most out of role players has been key toward his 10 rings. The average basketball fan, if not for Jackson, would not know who players like Derek Fisher, Gasol, Odom, or Trevor Ariza are. These players have had minimal success in other situations, but they're now considered “great” due to what Jackson has molded them into.
It even existed back in the 1990s when it was Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper, Steve Kerr, Dennis Rodman, Luc Longley, Bill Cartwright, B.J. Armstrong, amd Wil Perdue, and the 2000s with Rick Fox (by the way whose acting I don’t think is that great), Robert Horry, Devean George, Brian Shaw, Samaki Walker, Mark Madsen (remember the dance in the parade?), and so forth.
The common theme with these guys is that they are specialists in a certain aspect of the game and are not a one-man team. Jackson utilized their strengths and put them in situations that would help the team the most.
My hat is off to you, Phil Jackson. You definitely know how to make the most of your players. Congratulations on winning the championship this year and I hope you return for another year.